Transition to life with no children at home is one of the most challenging changes for most parents. Learning how to be an ‘empty nester’ is not an automatic process. You need to learn how to shop and cook for two people, not five or six; you need to find ways to fill the time you spent driving and picking up your kids; you need to learn to focus more on yourself and less on others. It is a process and it takes time and practice.
In a recent discussion with a psychologist who specializes in family counseling, I was advised – for the first few weeks – to set aside a period of time everyday to ‘mourn’ my children moving out of the house. At first I thought this was ridiculous. I did not think this made any sense and decided it was lousy advice… now, however, I feel very differently. When your children leave home you do feel a sense of loss, an enormous sense of loss. Having made breakfast, prepared lunches, cooked dinners, driven to and from school, worn the many hats of nurse, teacher, psychologist, coach, driver, cook, etc. for 18 years, it takes time to learn to take off those hats and discover new ones.
The most challenging part is the emotion. You have days you miss your kids so much you cry your eyes out and feel like the pain, the raw hurt inside, will never go away. This is when/ how/ why the process of actively dealing with this loss, this change in life and family, is so important. I do find myself taking a few minutes each day to mindfully think of my children. I find this time allows me to focus on them no longer being at home, but recognizing they are still very much a part of my life. During these moments of active reflection, I allow myself to laugh, cry, or reflect on specific memories and experiences we went through together.
Adapting to being an empty nester is a process; take ownership of the process and support yourself by dealing with it. This prevents those unexpected moments of overwhelming emotion that catch you off guard – and make you feel as if you cannot deal with the fact your babies have grown up and flown the nest. Taking care of yourself, and identifying and meeting your needs, is just as important as how you continue to support your kids through this process, and the challenges they encounter as a result.
Expat Teens Talk: Peers, Parents and Professionals offer support, advice and solutions in response to Expat Life Challenges as shared by Expat Teens
Dr. Lisa Pitman and Diana Smit